Report of the Commission of Inquiry - verbatim report of proceedings in Congregation - (2) to No 4471



<br /> Oxford University Gazette: Report of North Commission:<br /> Congregation debate (supplement)

Oxford University Gazette

Report of the Commission of Inquiry: verbatim report
of
proceedings in Congregation

Supplement (2) to Gazette No. 4471

Wednesday, 29 April 1998


To
Gazette
No. 4472 (30 April 1998)

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The verbatim report of the debate in Congregation on
10 March
on the general resolution concerning the Report of the
Commission
of Inquiry (see Gazette, pp. 896, 933) is
set out
below.

The general resolution read as follows:

That this House take note of the Report of the Commission
of
Inquiry.


Speeches were made by the following:



Verbatim report


Mr Vice-Chancellor

MR VICE-CHANCELLOR: Before we begin the debate, I should
express
on behalf of Congregation our gratitude to the members of
the
Commission of Inquiry. They have devoted a considerable
amount of
their time over three years to a careful scrutiny of the
way in
which the University conducts its business. Their report
is the
fruit of a serious inspection; it has a large embrace and
it
presents large recommendations. It offers a mirror to
ourselves
and we should take it seriously. We address the reasoning
and
conclusions of this report in the context of a rapidly
changing
world in higher education. The Dearing Report was as much
a
symptom of that change as a guide to it. We must consider
whether
we are institutionally well-equipped to navigate within
that
sharply changing context. We must consider how we may
best
preserve the values that mark our educational and
research work
and best manage our ability to excel among the challenges
of a
highly competitive international and national university
environment. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry has
identified clearly a number of significant issues; it
proposes a
number of remedies and innovations; we do well to attend
carefully to what it has to say to us.

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Dr M.E. Ceadel

DR M.E. CEADEL (New College; Senior Proctor): Mr
Vice-Chancellor,
as explained in the note published in the
Gazette,
the general resolution is a `technical' device to enable
this
debate to be held. I beg to move the resolution.

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supplement



Dr A.M. Volfing

DR A.M. VOLFING (Oriel College; Junior Proctor): Mr
Vice-Chancellor, I beg to second the resolution.

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supplement



Dr R.P. Martineau

DR R.P. MARTINEAU (Wadham College; Chairman of the
Committee of
Estates Bursars): Mr Vice-Chancellor, my intention is to
speak to
the matters which I am particularly concerned with.
Firstly,
however, may I echo your thanks to the members of the
Commission
and indeed to those who serviced it in its long and heavy
work.
We all owe them, I think, a great debt for their work,
and
particularly in these difficult and otherwise
all-consuming
times.

I would like to welcome also the intention of Council to
consult
widely among university committees, individuals, and
other bodies
on the report of the North Commission before bringing
proposals
to this House. The Committee of Estates Bursars, with
which I am
mostly concerned, will indeed be concerned with many of
the ideas
in the report, and of course particularly with Chapter
12, on
resources. Today I want to pick up just two points
arising from
that chapter. They are of very different kinds: one is, I
think,
perhaps apparently technical, but not so in practice;
and the
other will, I am sure, concern many of us as we look
through the
detailed proposals.

The first concerns recommendation 89, about the accounts
of the
colleges. As I say, it seems a little technical. What is
not
obvious to me (though it may turn out to be true) is that
these
accounts must necessarily be made comparable with those
of the
University. Accounts are there to provide information for
those
who have a legitimate interest in it. Before work is
commenced,
therefore, we need to be sure who needs the information,
what
information they need, and for what purpose they need it.
I
accept here that there are different constituencies: one,
certainly, would be the general public (who have a
general
interest in the activities of colleges); one will be the
persons
who have made generous donations to the college, to make
sure
that those donations are being properly utilised; another
constituency will be those who have the charge of the
affairs of
the college, namely the fellows; and the fourth,
certainly
(though this is not an exhaustive list), will be the
central
university bodies, who wish to inform themselves of the
activities of colleges. It is only, therefore, after
these
matters have been discussed and properly resolved in the
light of
decisions made as a result of the proposals of the North
Commission, that it could be possible to begin a
construction of
a format, or changes in the present format, of the
accounts of
the colleges.

The other matter I wish to address, Sir, concerns the
remarks of
the Commission, which are made at some length, about
disparity of
pay (or, if you like, rewards). Here I personally very
much
welcome the references made by the Commission to `equal
reward
for work of equal value'. Supposing of course that there
are no
areas where some work is of more equal value than others!
The
details of the Commission's proposals for achieving this
are
tucked away in Appendix C. To my mind they are slightly
worrying.
They envisage that the University, the central University
that is
to say, Sir, should take over the payment of the salaries
of
joint appointments almost entirely. They then require,
necessarily, a set of rules, inherently unstable and of
Byzantine
complexity, for shuffling money around the system. I hear
in the
wings the rubbing of the hands of senior partners in the
more
expensive accounting firms.

The proposals have side-effects out of all proportion to
the
problem they seek to solve, and it is for me depressing
that the
Commission have so little faith in the collegiate system
of
Oxford that they do not even consider that the result can
be
achieved by persuasion. The evidence, in particular in
Paper 16
in the Supplementary Volume, is that colleges
overwhelmingly
prefer co-operation to compulsion.

The cynics will of course at this point say that the
colleges
cannot be trusted to do the right thing. My responses
would be
three. Firstly, such a view is not just offensive: a
moment's
reflection shows that it is incompatible with the desire,
overwhelmingly supported in the University, to remain a
collegiate University. Secondly, even the Commission's
own
proposals require the whole-hearted co-operation of
colleges, in
the matter of not paying allowances of one kind or
another, of
paying the full top-up salary for those who do not live
in
college, and so on. Thirdly, however, and for me most
importantly, the evidence is clear that colleges, when
they are
accorded respect rather than being told what to do, in
fact
respond positively to sensible proposals; and it has
been my
delight, Sir, to be involved with you and others over the
last
few years in many discussions which have convinced me of
that.
Certainly, a few colleges (and it is only a few) may have
insufficient resources to give effect to the common will.
Then,
if that is the common will, they must (and it will follow
logically) be helped by the College Contributions System.
In that
context, the sums required in fact are very small.

In the thirty odd years since the Franks Commission
reported, the
differences in stipends have in proportionate terms been
reduced
to less than a third of what they then were. They have of
course
been reduced now to zero in the case of those who are at
the top
end of the salary scale. I am confident that with this
lead from
the Commission, with this encouragement, and with general
will
among the colleges, we shall be able to finish the job.

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Mr K.P. Wills

MR K.P. WILLS (Magdalen College): Mr Vice-Chancellor,
unfortunately our present deliberations are overshadowed
by the
Government's attack on the Oxbridge college fees. This
has lead
to what has been dubbed `planning blight'—in our
case an
inability to plan with confidence for the future. It
certainly
also means that caution should at this point in time be
our
watchword.

Last term the Vice-Chancellor's Fees Group asked three
colleges
to carry out a theoretical study of how they would deal
with the
situation of the loss of college fees, together with a
large
increase in the distribution of resources from the less
poor to
the poorer. Magdalen was one of the colleges asked to
carry out
this exercise, and in doing so we assumed quite draconian
cuts in
expenditure, involving cuts in staffing. We also assumed
significant increases in charges to students on top of
the rent
increases which we have all introduced in recent years.
Further,
we assumed that we would increase the income from our
endowment
by forsaking some of our best investments, which,
however,
produce little or no income. We found that, having taken
those
steps, we would still have to cut severely into teaching
by
reducing numbers of tutors and lecturers. This, with
stark
clarity, showed really that Magdalen at least could
certainly not
absorb both a large loss in college fee income and at the
same
time a very large increase in the contributions to help
others. I
believe that that demonstrates quite clearly that in our
present
deliberations there is no room for complacency.

The College Contributions Scheme was set up to strengthen
the
finances of the poorer colleges and not to finance an
increase in
the size of the University. I believe it is completely
unacceptable to divert these funds, from the purposes
from which
they are intended, to finance expansion at this
particularly
critical time. I therefore believe that we should beware
of
readily accepting in our thinking that a 1 per cent per
annum
increase in numbers is something which will continue. It
is quite
possible that we may have to contemplate reduction in
numbers of
students, and even reduction in numbers of colleges.

Turning to some of the recommendations in Chapter 12, I
would
like to say that I agree, and I am absolutely certain
that
Magdalen College will agree, with recommendation 90, that
the
College Contributions Scheme should continue. On the
other hand,
I certainly cannot support recommendation 91, neither 91
(a) nor 91 (b): in my view, any new
colleges
must be fully endowed and not be accepted into the system
to be a
burden. Recommendations 92 and 93 outline the way in
which the
Commission suggests that the housing allowances should be
equalised. I do not believe that these recommendations
have been
thought through properly; I think that they are ill
conceived
and may be unaffordable. I believe that we should turn
our
attention to agreeing a cap on the housing allowances
(probably
at or around the upper quartile of housing allowances
currently
being paid), but at the same time, and this is very
important, we
must agree also a cap for all other academic allowances
(however
they are referred to: some are called book allowances,
some are
called research allowances, and I think there are other
names for
these things).

I would just like to make one final observation, which is
about
recommendation 88. I do not think anyone would disagree,
and I
certainly agree, with that recommendation, that Oxford
should
remain part of the UK's publicly funded system of higher
education, supported on the basis of a partnership of
both public
and private funds. However, the discussion in the
Commission's
report on this subject was rather superficial. After the
years of
the last Government's squeeze on college fees, and after
the
experience that we have had and that we are still going
through
with this present Government trying to cut out college
fees in
their entirety, it seems to me that we should examine
carefully
and in depth ways of managing a progressive move towards
lesser
reliance on public and greater reliance on private funds.
If that
move involved a more cosmopolitan student body, I would
have
thought that would be most welcome.

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Dr P.J. Collins

DR P.J. COLLINS (St Edmund Hall): Mr Vice-Chancellor, it
is now
widely accepted that the Commission of Inquiry has given
us a
succinct account of this University, taken in its
broadest sense,
and the problems which it must confront as the twentieth
century
closes. Its publication must therefore be welcomed
whole-heartedly by every member of Congregation.

The report deserves minute examination and, if its
recommendations are not to be followed, we had better be
sure
that we have the means to deal with the inefficiencies
and
inequalities which detailed research has uncovered.

When some of us came to this building in the autumn of
1994 to
launch the Commission's inquiries, it was the reputation
of the
University that was foremost in our minds. There was no
doubt
then, and there can still be none now, that in the phrase
of your
predecessor, Sir, one `over-arching issue', connecting as
it does
the University and its colleges, is that of financial
reorganisation, with the aim of ensuring equality of
opportunity
and equality of treatment. Despite strenuous efforts in
some
quarters, these equalities, alas, seem to be eluding us
and that
at a time when the gaze of the press is fixed upon us,
and
reports of what some colleges can offer and what others
cannot
appear regularly in newspapers and alternative
prospectuses.

Oxford, Sir, does not now need the reputation that the
excellence
offered in some colleges is at an altogether different
level from
that in others. Yet the actual and perceived variation
in, for
example, facilities and allowances have already skewed
applications at both senior and junior level.

Back on that autumn day in 1994, I proposed a check-list
of
ideals against which the Commission might measure its
success in
providing a mechanism to reorganise the University's
finances and
to do better than keeping poorer colleges on the
breadline. I
continue to hold that if these ideals can be approached,
then the
solutions to many other problems will fall into place.
One such
ideal was that all holders of joint appointments,
regardless of
college, should enjoy the same stipend and taxable
(pensionable)
allowances, not only at the joint maximum, but at all
points
leading up to it.

North in fact, as we have already heard, dwells on this,
finds
the present variations `unacceptable', insists that
`measures
should be taken to equalise levels of salary payments'
(paras
12.56 and 12.65), and backs this up with imaginative,
though, as
we have heard earlier this afternoon, challengeable
proposals
which would at least make sure we need not look at this
issue
again (Appendix C).

My second ideal was that all junior members, regardless
of
college, should have the same opportunity to live in
college for
the same length of time and pay the same rents.

North tells us (para. 12.49) that almost 80 per cent of
second-year undergraduates in well-off colleges are able
to live
in college accommodation, compared with only 44 per cent
of those
in poorer colleges, and recommends that the College
Contributions
Scheme continue, the prime objective being to enable the
poorer
colleges to improve their provision.

No timescale is hinted at, and we are left wondering how
this
anomaly can be put right without a far greater infusion
of funds,
more than could ever be raised by colleges individually.

As to college charges for accommodation, the report notes
(para.
12.22) that they vary, but are `clustered within 10 per
cent of
the [weighted] average [for all colleges]'. Such
variation seems,
surprisingly, not be to be considered significant, which
must be
challenged. A 20 per cent difference when living in, plus
the
additional costs of living out in the second year, pose
an unfair
financial burden, particularly on undergraduates whose
college
was chosen for them by computer. Colleges with the
highest
charges are often those with the smallest inventory of
rooms.

We should remember that the Conference of Colleges,
without
individual college opposition, has already agreed that
the band
of accommodation charges should be narrowed. However, we
still
await action.

As North observes (para. 12.44), `there is a broad
correlation
between college wealth and academic performance'. By
perpetuating
the current imbalance, we are too often offering very
different—and undesirably different—academic
experiences.

But the time has now come to move from `ideals' to
`practicalities', from Sir Peter's `thinking the
unthinkable',
the possibility even of a college going bust, to `working
the
unworkable'. I should therefore like to propose a modus
operandi
for the various committees about to consider these
issues:

There is first the need to specify acceptable `minimum
kit and
maximum variation', that is, minimum provision of
salaries and
allowances, IT, books, administrative and secretarial
support,
hardship and travel grants, accommodation, etc., which
should be
available to Senior and Junior Members, and the maximum
acceptable variation in this provision from college to
college.

Secondly, the committees should address the means by
which these
minimum levels and maximum variations can be achieved, be
it by
enlarging the College Contributions Scheme, by the
central
payment of salaries of joint appointees, by
University-wide
fund-raising initiatives, by making use of assets such as
the
University Press, or whatever.

Thirdly, there should be time-scales for the achievement
of these
objectives.

Fourth, there should be an annual review, giving the
opportunity
for adjustment of the objectives. How many would have
anticipated
ten years ago, for example, the extent of the subsequent
increase
in demand for IT provision? This points to the need to
create a
standing committee with appropriate formal
representation.

Finally, a report of this review should be published each
year in
the Gazette.

The Commission of Inquiry has made an invaluable
contribution in
demonstrating the impact of the differences in college
wealth and
suggesting methods for combatting unacceptable and
undesirable
inequalities. In particular, the report has shown the
need for
willing co-operation within the University as a whole and
all its
independent colleges to ensure that its reputation as a
place of
the highest standards in research and education is
maintained and
that the opportunity is given to all its members to
achieve their
best.

We now call on you, Mr Vice-Chancellor, to lead the way
in
discussions to transform our ideals into the
practicalities which
will govern our lives into the twenty-first century.

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Professor D. Noble

PROFESSOR D. NOBLE (Balliol College; Chairman of the
International Committee): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I will
address a
rather different topic from the previous speakers. I
speak today
primarily as Chairman of the International Committee of
the
University, but I also speak as a scientist whose work
and
research team could not conceivably achieve what they
have
without major international collaboration. In that, I am
sure I
speak for many other members of the University running
large
research teams. We need to attract the very best students
and
researchers from all over the world, and to have the
means for
linking our work to the best overseas universities, and
we need
that in order to survive in the extremely competitive
situation
in which we now find ourselves.

The Commission's report does, briefly, acknowledge this
international dimension of the University, and concludes
that it
has `implications for the University's future operation
and
structure' (para. 2.38).

The report does not however spell out what these
implications may
be. I wish to begin to do just that. Oxford cannot go on
assuming
that its world-wide reputation will sweep all before it.
I and my
colleagues on the International Committee have argued
that we
must consider more positive steps to maintain this
status.

First, it is essential that we should be able to compete
for
world-wide talent with the right weapons. These must
include the
provision of scholarships on a scale that can compete
with many
North American universities. We are not in that
position—not
by a long way, and we certainly lag well behind
Cambridge. We are
some of us attempting to strengthen the University's work
to
raise funding for scholarships (in fact the International
Committee itself has recently transferred funds to the
Development Office to help in this regard). But much more
needs
to be done. The logic of our argument is obvious: it is
in the
long-term interests of Britain's economy and
international
reputation that we should educate the best from abroad,
regardless of their personal wealth. They will remember
Oxford
and Britain long afterwards.

Second, we should encourage the development of
international
research links and funding. It is already the case
(perhaps
little known to members of Congregation, but referred to
in the
report) that over 10 per cent of our total research
income comes
from overseas industry and from the European Commission.
We
should be developing the links that will enable this
total to
grow further. There is a major role here, obviously, for
the
overseas offices of the University. These are now
established in
North America and in East Asia, and, as the Review
Committee on
the Development Office concluded (and I was, Sir, a
member of
that committee), there is a case for extending this
network even
further. We need here to take a long-term view. It takes
many
years to reap the rewards of friend raising and fund
raising
abroad. Our American competitors know that only too well.
They
have been at it longer than we have.

Third, and finally, as we review the administrative
structures of
the University, let us not lose sight of the need to
co-ordinate
the range of related activities. I see an almost
continuous
chain, running through the Research Services Office and
the
activities of Isis Innovation, through the International
Committee and the External Relations Office, through to
the
Development Offices and Alumni Associations here and
around the
world. Over the last few years I have interacted in
various
capacities with all these parts of the University. They
could
benefit from a strategic vision of where the University
is trying
to place itself in the international world, and we should
give
thought to how this should emerge alongside our
deliberation of
the North Report.

If I may speak here from my personal experience, many of
the
universities with which we would like to compare
ourselves
internationally have the equivalent of a Vice-President
for
international affairs. There are many ways in which this
might be
achieved in Oxford, and I am not necessarily suggesting
that
solution. The exact solution must depend on the new
administrative structure that emerges from our present
deliberations on the North Report. However we achieve it,
though,
we need a strategic vision, and the means to implement
it.

Like you, Mr Vice-Chancellor, I travel much around the
world on
university and research business. Like you, I find that
Oxford is
always held in extremely high regard abroad. Dare I say
that it
is valued almost more abroad than it sometimes seems to
be here
in the UK? We are admired not only by foreign academics
for
defending what a university should be about, and one of
the few
universities still to do that publicly, but also by
foreign
industries for what we can bring of value to their
technologies,
and by foreign governments for the insights that our
humanities
and social research can bring to their problems. As a
result, we
receive a steady stream of visiting foreign
industrialists,
politicians, and administrators.

But, and this is the bottom line of my speech, I do
believe that
the University could be in danger of underestimating the
steps
now needed in a more competitive world not only to
maintain this
international reputation but also to develop its
international
impact as well as it could. So, I urge those who will now
consider the implementation of the North Report to keep
this need
in mind. It will not be a bad criterion by which to
measure the
administrative reforms to ask whether they will go any
way to
enabling the University to put its strategic
international vision
in place.

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Professor C.J. Bliss

PROFESSOR C.J. BLISS (Nuffield College): Mr
Vice-Chancellor, I
feared I might be rather a lonely voice in Congregation
today,
and that to some extent I am not, and that some of what I
have to
say echoes things said by Professor Denis Noble, is only
a source
of pleasure to me.

The Commission of Inquiry Report (the North Commission)
is in
many ways an impressive document. To survey such a vast
range of
issues; to comment on them; and to come up with judicious
proposals, cannot have been easy. There is much to
welcome in the
recommendations, especially where governance is
concerned, which
I have no time to discuss today. Yet I fear that the
sheer volume
of problems, and the babble of contentious voices to
which the
Commission had to respond, has resulted in the neglect of
what I
believe to be one of the most worrying questions
concerning
Oxford's future. Will it be able to retain its status as
a
leading international university?

That Oxford is at the present rime a leading
international
university in the field of research is sometimes
overlooked, but
cannot be doubted by anyone who examines the facts. The
North
Commission makes more than one reference to Oxford's high
research standing. However, one can search the report in
vain to
find out why that came to be, or for any sense that it
may be a
position difficult to sustain in the future. It has been
well
said that there are only two universities in Europe which
are
truly world-class research universities, Cambridge and
Oxford. It
could be argued that aggregating the constituent colleges
of the
University of London would make it three. Be that as it
may,
whether it is two or three world-class universities, the
point is
that when it comes to world-class research across a full
range of
subjects, the main standard for comparison has to be the
best
large universities in North America—a small club
which
certainly includes Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

Oxford likes to compare itself with Princeton, and the
comparison
is reasonable, because in the past Princeton modelled
itself
explicitly on Oxford. The position today, however, is of
sharp
contrast, not similarity. To put it brutally simply,
Oxford is a
university dedicated to undergraduate teaching, which has
graduate studies as an after-thought extension. That
spirit is
widely reflected in the North Commission Report.
Princeton could
be seen as a hugely powerful team of graduate schools,
which has
undergraduate teaching as an add-on. In each case the
university
concerned derives a large part of its income from the
sector
which in relative terms it neglects: Princeton from high
undergraduate fees; Oxford from, according to the North
Commission's figures, £179.2m worth of research
money coming
to the University: its largest single source of income.

This said, the two great institutions, Oxford and
Princeton, do
share world-class research performance. The source of my
worry is
that, as in other theatres of competition, past success
is no
guarantee of future brilliance.

The sources of Oxford's greatness in the past are no
solid
guarantee of our research future. We used to gather
together the
finest academics, and just let good research happen. In
the
sciences it needed more in terms of big resource budgets,
and
this was provided. Oxbridge experienced no trouble in
attracting
the best and the brightest. In Britain, with salary
scales more
or less fixed, we could easily trump the rest with the
attractions of a fine city, a large university, and the
pleasures
of college life. When some departments declined, they
could even
be revived on the back of the general attractiveness of
Oxford.
Most of all, time to do research was not a leading
concern,
particularly for young appointees. There was always, of
course,
serious competition from the top US universities, which
could,
and did, tempt away leading academics with offers of
large
salaries and light teaching loads. Yet most people are
not easily
mobile internationally, and we could live with US
competition. We
even attracted US scholars. Although most did not stay,
some did,
and even the short-stayers could provide very good
academic
value.

Today the world is changing fast. An academic market,
encouraged
by the last Governments, exists and is functioning. So,
when
considering whether an academic at another UK department
might be
attracted to Oxford, we find ourselves asking: `Could she
face
the cut in her salary?'. (By the way, my woman embraces
the man,
Sir.) It is not easy to acquire firm data on salaries.
One hears
that the best-paid LSE professor earns twice what the
worst-paid
earns. It even seems that Oxford enjoys increasing
flexibility
where professorial appointments are concerned. Yet what
this adds
up to in practice is less easy to know.

Even if I dared to be optimistic where senior
appointments are
concerned, the position for junior appointments is bleak.
Few of
the young today see an Oxford appointment as a life-time
position. They want to attain a national/international
reputation, and we should powerfully wish that they might
do so.
That means doing research and publishing, and that takes
more and
more time, as standards everywhere rise. In this
connection, an
Oxford CUF or UL appointment, involving many hours of
wide-ranging teaching, is a serious deterrent. Speaking
for my
own faculty, Social Studies, I can say that we have seen
far too
many resignations from these positions, by people we
would like
to retain. And I hear tell of comparable problems in some
science
departments. One should always judge a university by who
is
joining it, not by who is leaving, for turnover is a
healthy,
renewing thing. Unfortunately the difficulties in
retaining
people translate to problems in attracting good people.
The
difficulties are structural. The idea that levelling down
of
conditions of employment, as proposed by the North
Commission, is
any part of the answer bewilders me.

I am certainly not wishing to suggest that there are easy
answers. The conflict between the demands of teaching and
research visits any university, including Princeton.
There is no
ideal answer. The solution needs skilful design and
intelligent
compromise. I applaud, for example, the North
Commission's
discussion of the merits and problems of graduate
students as
undergraduate teachers. However, in treating research as
something that can be allowed to happen, the report
militates
against the redesign of Oxford's teaching that will be
required
for the twenty-first century. In that respect, in my
opinion, Mr
Vice-Chancellor, Oxford's compass does not point North.

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Dr J. Pallot

DR J. PALLOT (Christ Church): Mr Vice Chancellor, when I
demitted
from office as Senior Proctor in 1995, I took the
opportunity
offered by the Senior Proctor's Oration to express some
hopes
about the work of the Commission of Inquiry which had
recently
been set up. One of these hopes was prompted by my own
observation of who walked the corridors of power in this
University. I expressed the hope that the Commission
would give
serious thought to how the under-representation of women
on key
decision-making bodies might be overcome. I had been
struck
during my Proctorial year by the fact that a majority of
central
committees (and I have in mind here such important
decision-making bodies as Resources Committee and
Planning and
Development) had no women on them. It was simply due to
the
accident of there being two women Proctors in the
academic year
1994--5 that some of the University's central committees
had what
I suspect was the unusual experience of hearing a woman's
voice.
Where the Proctors are concerned, I note that the
University is
about to revert to type with two male Proctors and one
male
Assessor for the forthcoming Proctorial year.

The North Report has little or nothing to say on the
subject of
women in university governance. (I have to add that it
has little
or nothing to say about women in general; the only
reference I
found to women as a separate issue is in Chapter 9 in
relation to
under-performance in Schools. Remarkably, Chapter 7,
dealing with
academic appointments, makes no references to the
problem, long
since acknowledged in this University as a problem, of
the
scarcity of women professors, the poor record of
appointment of
women to established academic posts, and the
concentration of
women in short-term contract posts. I hope the question
of
women's appointments will be taken up in next week's
debate.)
Returning to governance, it seems to me self-evident that
steps
need to be taken to draw women into decision making in
the
University at the very highest level. The arguments have
been
rehearsed often enough, although perhaps more outside
Oxford than
in. First, there are numerous issues which directly
affect
women's ability to make an academic career which are
subject to
decision by central committees—women should be there
to take
part in discussion. The second reason for drawing women
into
university government is that the University is obviously
losing
out on the contribution women can make; there are women
who would
like to become more involved in university politics, but
they
need positive encouragement to do so and they do not find
this in
the North Report. Thirdly, of course, it obviously makes
good
sense for the University to have a system of governance
that is
seen to be inclusive.

I also regret that the North Report does not consider the
impact
of its proposed changes on women. For example, where the
sciences
are concerned, one of the report's principal
recommendations—the establishment of a Science
Board—is
unlikely to represent a leap forward for women in
high-level
decision making. There are so few women in the sciences,
particularly in senior positions, that it is difficult to
see how
any of them will be elected to the Science Board. At
least some
women, drawn largely from the humanities and social
sciences, do
currently make it to General Board and, once there, can
look
after the interests of women across the University at
large. On
the other hand, the proposal to extend membership of
Congregation
to some academic-related staff may improve women's
representation
on committees in the University, although this is, of
course,
likely to be at the lower levels. But the point I am
making here
is that these are questions which I think we might have
expected
the Commission of Inquiry to explore and to comment upon.

It is not too late to rectify this oversight in the North
Report—the composition of the committees established
to work
on the recommendations for changes in governance and
appointments
could be looked at again with a view to making sure that
women
are equally represented on them. The committee to
consider
governance has, I think, only one woman on it—the
Principal
of St Anne's. The Principal of St Anne's has carried the
torch
for women in university politics for as long as I can
remember,
and certainly for as long as I have been in the
University, and I
think it is about time she was joined by some others.

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Professor R.A. Mayou

PROFESSOR R.A. MAYOU (Nuffield College): Mr
Vice-Chancellor, the
worst outcome of these debates would be the rejection of
change
and an acceptance that we will continue to react to what
is going
on about us without any role in trying to shape our own
future. I
think the key point in the Commission's report does
relate to
governance, and the changes in governance may enable us
to make
changes in many other areas. One has heard numerous
comments on
the Commission's views on governance, ranging from those
who
favour radical change to those who feel that some further
minor
regilding of the lily that is the General Board is all
that we
require.

I want to comment from the standpoint of someone who is a
member
of the Faculty of Clinical Medicine, who is a fellow of a
specialist graduate college, and who was a member of the
General
Board for five years until last summer. In fact I wrote
in the
Oxford Magazine last October about the General Board and
I put
there my considerable respect for the work that the Board
has
done, the work of its successive Chairmen, and indeed of
its
officers. I think it has been impressive in recent years,
but
none the less it seems entirely clear to me that it has
been
overwhelmed by business, increasing business, much of it
minor.
It is part of a complicated and opaque structure of
General Board
and Council committees with uncertain relationships with
the
Chest, university libraries, and a number of other key
university
institutions. I think the General Board has been
restricted in
its powers and scope. Even so, it has been trying to deal
with
very rapid change, and I think in many ways it has been
successful, but that makes me even more aware of how much
needs
to be done.

The Commission, I think, recommends the abolition of the
General
Board in favour of a new Council. I would prefer to
recast that
as an evolution of the General Board as the main policy
body of
the University, and I think that that is possible. I
would like
to see it with ex officio members from the
different
constituencies in the University, but continuing also
with
elected members; and I hope they would, as are the
present
members of the General Board, be elected from various
constituencies in the University, rather than elected as
is
Council. I would like to see then around it some
simplification
of the committees so that the central business of policy,
of
resource allocation, and of strategy could be brought
together
and given the intensive consideration that it requires.
It really
is not possible, I think, at present for any of these
matters to
get the attention that they deserve.

I see no alternative in the new structure to reversing
the
delegation upwards, and that we do need delegation
downwards, and
I see no reason why we should not be able to achieve this
without
extra, over-elaborate administration. I think that it
would
simplify matters and would make it a great deal easier
for the
General Board and the centre to concentrate on some of
the very
important matters that are covered in the Commission.

I would like to see certainly the three academic boards,
and I
wonder whether in fact five boards might be a preferable
number.
In Clinical Medicine (my own faculty), as the Commission
has
pointed out, we already have moved substantially towards
an
academic board; we have transformed our faculty board. I
think
one would be remarkably politically insensitive to
recommend to
other areas of the University that they should move in
any way in
the same direction as Clinical Medicine, but I would, I
think,
want to point out several lessons. Six years ago my
faculty was
certainly the most troublesome, and I think perhaps the
most
troubled, of the University's faculties. We had no
representative
on any senior university committee; we had a weak
faculty board
and seventeen or eighteen highly separate departments. I
think we
have made progress from our own efforts, and indeed with
help
from the General Board and successive Chairmen. We have
found
this, I think, very helpful in ourselves, and I think it
has also
resulted in a slowly improving relationship with the
centre of
the University. It also opens the way for more horizontal
relationships with the Pre-clinical School, the other
life
sciences, and so on.

It seems clear to me that the sciences are actually
moving in the
same direction, and they will continue to do so whatever
happens
about the implementation of the Commission
recommendations. If we
look at the science membership of the General Board, it
now
includes the Chairmen of Physics, Chemistry, and
Medicine, and
the Heads of Biochemistry, Materials, and Physiology. It
already
has amongst its members people who are running the broad
areas of
science, and I would have thought that there were strong
advantages in continuing that, though I suspect that
separation
of the physical sciences and the life sciences as two
boards
might be easier than one very large board.

Clearly, I think, arts and humanities face greater
problems in
any new structure, they are more disparate, and they are
organised in a different way, but I see no reason why
they should
not attempt to follow the same structure, with a Deputy
Vice-Chancellor (or possibly two boards again and two
Deputy
Vice-Chancellors at the centre). I think there would then
be the
opportunity for the arts and humanities to develop in
their own
way, which might in many ways parallel science and
medicine or it
might be different. I think if we have the same system at
the
centre, then there is room for diversity, but that I
think is for
each grouping to work out themselves within some broad
setting.

I want to conclude by saying that I think governance is
the
crucial issue and that evolution of the General Board in
significant ways, simplifying the centre, with delegation
downwards to three (or perhaps preferably five) academic
boards,
does open the way to changes. I agree very much with
Professor
Noble and Professor Bliss about changes which will enable
the
University to remain internationally reputed and
competitive. It
also seems to me that changes in governance are the way
in which
we can preserve a distinctive Oxford approach to many
problems.
This is a matter that has quite properly raised
considerable
concern, but I think we are not going to maintain an
Oxford
approach, we are not going to be able to persuade the
Government,
and the country, that it is a valuable approach unless we
have a
system in which all of us, and not least the
Vice-Chancellor and
the centre of the University, can put forward this view
robustly.
So I hope that in this one area at least we will make a
start
with significant developments.

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Professor R.C. Turner

PROFESSOR R.C. TURNER (Green College): Mr
Vice-Chancellor, I
would like to congratulate the Commission of Inquiry on a
very
clear and well-argued report. The proposed committee
structure is
functional, with inevitable greater clarity as to how
decisions
are made than previously. The proposals, with emphasis on
devolution of decision making and clarity of
responsibility, take
heed of many of the comments from Coopers & Lybrand
and KPMG.

The figures on pp. 97--9 showed clearly how the
humanities and
social sciences, science, and clinical medicine have
different
structures and different types of problems. The
devolution of
responsibility to these three new academic boards is very
sensible. As Richard Mayou said, in Clinical Medicine it
extends
a system that is working fairly well.

I do understand that other faculties may fear that the
new
structure may lessen the control of their destiny. I do
not think
that this would be true. The new academic board would be
able to
focus on their needs in a way that hitherto has not
happened.
Their Deputy Vice-Chancellor will be a key figure in
supporting
their case in senior committees. The three academic
boards are
bound to develop slightly different administrative
arrangements,
and they will be able to learn from each other.

The Clinical School understands that separation of the
Clinical
Medicine Board from pre-clinical sciences is not ideal.
However,
it is probably a better option then subdividing the
science
departments. The important feature is that the Clinical
Board and
pre-clinical sciences should maintain links with liaison
committees, and possibly cross-representation between
academic
boards.

The new academic boards will have responsibility for
dealing with
external funding agencies, such as research councils and
medical
charities, which I believe to be correct. There have, in
the
past, been problems with shared responsibility between
the
General Board and the host department that has received
the
funds. It would make sense if the academic board had both
administrative and financial responsibility for handling
the
grant, rather than passing these on to the central
administration. It will fit in with the principle of
clarity of
responsibility. This addition does not affect the overall
structure of the proposal from the Commission of Inquiry.

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Professor J.I. Bell

PROFESSOR J.I. BELL (Magdalen College): Mr
Vice-Chancellor, I too
would like to speak briefly about the proposals in the
North
Commission about governance of the University. I will
also speak
largely representing the Department of Medicine and the
Faculty
of Clinical Medicine, because we, I think, offer
particular
problems in terms of governance within the University.

I think it is well recognised that, in many ways, the
Faculty of
Clinical Medicine is different in its activities from
what goes
on elsewhere in the University. Some would say that
indeed we are
at the bottom of the academic pecking order, because what
we do
is largely technical and considerably less academic than
many of
the others in this room. One of the great advantages of
having a
Business School in the University is that there is now
someone
else to wipe our feet on, and we are no longer at the
bottom of
the pecking order. But it is true, we do have different
activities, and those were made very clear in the North
Commission. We have a very different structure in terms
of our
staffing: we have a very small faculty but a huge number
of
research-related staff. The nature of our teaching
activities are
different, our interactions with the NHS are an important
part of
our day-to-day activities, and many of us carry a
significant
clinical load. And finally, to echo Professor Bliss's
comments,
we are operating in a research setting in an increasingly
international field, and we do not believe, in the
Clinical
School, that we are truly internationally in the first
division.
I believe that to be true of much of the University. The
Research
Assessment Exercise, in my view, has done nothing but
encourage
us to believe that the best in the UK is in fact the best
in the
world, but I do not believe that to be true. We want to
compete
much more efficiently and much more effectively in an
international setting in biomedical research, and those
are our
goals.

For that reason we feel that it is extremely important
that there
is some devolution in decision making to allow us to take
decisions that we view to be essential to retain our
competitiveness, and to do what we believe to be
important in our
day-to-day activities, without hindrance. Too often the
central
bodies of the University have been seen to restrict and
constrain, rather than to encourage and support. That is
not
always the case, and very often those decisions appear to
us to
be restricting simply because there is not the
information at the
centre to take sensible and logical decisions about what
we do.
So I would argue that devolution is a necessary
requirement to
allow people who have to live with the decisions to take
the
decisions, and I was terribly disappointed to see that
there was
not more in the North Commission to encourage devolution
of
financial activity to the level at which money is being
spent,
decisions being taken at that level, in a responsible
way. Many
will know that the issue of devolution of responsibility
was
considered in great detail by Sir David Smith and his
committee
reviewing the governance of the Clinical School, just
over a year
ago. And he brought into place three very senior deans of
medical
schools, one from Scandinavia, one from California, and
one from
London, and they concurred with the faculty that
devolution was
essential for the successful running of the school. For
that
reason I support strongly that notion in the North
Commission,
but only urge that perhaps it could go further.

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Dr J.N.P. Rawlins

DR J.N.P. RAWLINS (University College): Mr
Vice-Chancellor, the
issues I want to address are centred around the proposed
academic
boards and their Deputy Vice-Chancellors, and I should
like to
say that I want to support the general concept. I would
rather
have them than not—though I, of course, would like
to adjust
them in certain ways to make them still better than they
would be
without my tinkering.

Why do I support them? My views really derive from two
years as
chairman of a small faculty board; followed by three
years as
chairman of the Bioscience Research Board, to which I am
still
attached as its chairman of planning; and more years than
I care
to remember trying to design and subsequently run an
interdisciplinary, interdepartmental graduate M.Sc.
course.

The latter experience is very easy to describe. All the
proposals
I ever made went out at least in triplicate to the other
faculty
boards, which usually sent them down to their various
sub-faculties, which sometimes sent them down to the
various
departments represented there, which typically sent them
back up
to the sub-faculties, which returned them to the faculty
boards,
from which (with luck) they would go on to Graduate
Studies for
some comments, before coming back down through much the
same
route. Each cycle takes its requisite number of weeks or
months,
depending on the particular timing of the meetings, and
it is an
enormous extra load on any development that crosses
boundaries;
and yet increasingly, I think—and rightly—such
interdisciplinary activities are spreading in the
sciences. I
think our present structures hinder them. (I have not
even
mentioned the question of how you then get the resources
that the
course attracts off out to the various contributing
departments,
which makes simply setting the course up a simple
matter.) I
have often heard it claimed that there is nothing wrong
with our
structures, because it is perfectly possible to set up
interdepartmental courses of this kind. It is true: I
have done
it. But let me assure you that the task is infinitely
more
daunting than it really ought to have to be.

As far as experience on boards is concerned, I think that
the
most obvious conclusion I gained from chairing the
Psychological
Studies Board was that it dealt well with its own local
issues,
but it had absolutely no wider impact. It had no effect
on bigger
strategic issues, like the overall balance of different
subject
areas, or the consequences for other subject areas of a
professorial appointment in Psychology, and yet these
kinds of
broader issues do need to be considered within the
broadly
related subject areas. We ought to be able to say what
the
results will be of going for this sort of person, rather
than
that sort of person, as the head of department: there has
got to
be a mechanism.

The Bioscience Research Board represents, I suppose, an
embryonic
mechanism of that kind. It is an attempt to provide a
longer-term
strategic planning mechanism across the life sciences.
That was
initially needed, because external funding agencies threw
up
their hands in dismay on discovering that the same
proposal,
essentially, would arrive from different groups in Oxford
who had
sent it in in complete ignorance of the other groups'
activities.
That happens really because nobody knows what everyone
else is up
to. Hence you set up the Bioscience Research Board,
inter
alia
to advise on research priorities. Now that
works well
when there are no conflicts of interest, but it finds it
very
difficult to cope when there are conflicts. When,
inevitably,
such conflicts arise, it is often an irresistible
temptation for
people to simply go round the board that is supposed to
be
responsible for strategic planning, and get what they
want some
other way. It can be done. It seems to me that in fact
Oxford's
committee structure makes that a temptation for people at
other
times as well. I would suggest that over-elaborate
democratic
structures work against democracy, and I think we have
such
structures here.

I think what we have to have is boards that are able to
make
decisions and can be seen to do so. For that to be true,
such
boards need their own budget, because when they have
their own
budget you cannot simply go round the board whenever you
want to.
If its judgements do not agree with your local interests,
you
still have to live with its judgements. You join in the
decision,
but you live with the consequences. So that means you can
see
where the decisions are made, and that gives you both
transparency and accountability. The other thing such a
board
needs to do its work properly is people who can devote
enough
time to the issues it has to consider. So I want to
support the
idea of amalgamated boards with full-time Deputy
Vice-Chancellors. Indeed I think it would be a disaster
is some
areas not to have such boards.

What can a unified board do that the little ones cannot?
It can
deal with wider strategic issues than at present, and it
should
be able to handle them faster. It can pool its resources
for
particular initiatives and forward planning. It can deal
with the
ways in which different departments' activities interact,
and in
doing that it can develop interdepartmental activities. I
think
it would be more flexible and more responsive than the
present
structures.

What do the Deputy Vice-Chancellors need to do? They
need to be
full-time. They need to have adequate support from the
University. They should be intimately involved in issues
like
appointments to professorial chairs, all the way from
laying out
the areas of interest, and the ways in which the
appointments
would interact with the other subject areas, through to
how you
negotiate the last bits of the deal (because the Deputy
Vice-Chancellors should have the information that the
Registrar's
office needs to have in order to help move things on
appropriately). They should assist in grant raising. They
should
be an identified person that outside bodies can deal
with: that
is a regular complaint that Oxford hears. They must be
accountable to their board. They must know what is going
on
across the field they serve. And they need to be the
links
between boards. I think that suggests, as Professor Mayou
indicated, that a single sciences Deputy Vice-Chancellor
is
unlikely to be enough.

There are obviously disparities between boards in a
variety of
ways. The humanities have many more staff and students
that they
are responsible for. The Science Board in other respects
is very
often the largest board; and though it does not have to
deal
with Health Service Trusts and so on, it does none the
less deal
with a very wide range of departments. So I think the
sciences
would need two Deputy Vice-Chancellors. I think arguably
they
would need two boards, and I think that the same could be
said
for the humanities as well.

Would five Deputy Vice-Chancellors make Council
unmanageable, as
some have claimed? One possibility, with respect, would
be that
perhaps not quite so many places should be reserved for
the
Proctors and Assessor, so it might be possible to fit a
couple of
extra people on the board without disaster. Would this be
a
dangerous concentration of power? I do not see any
serious
threat in having five out of twenty-five people
representing the
academic boards. In fact, I think it would be astonishing
to have
only three people who worked full-time for boards on a
Council
that determines long-term university strategy. I think
that would
be an amazing state of affairs.

Finally, is there room for variation, such that within
this
general kind of structure people can get what they need?
I think
that there should be room. I do not think that the
sciences
should try and push the arts into accepting a system of
governance that they cannot manage, but I think it is
also
crucial that the arts do not prevent the sciences from
having a
system of governance with which they can work. Our
research and
intellectual needs may differ: we may need more
co-ordination,
bigger groupings; you may need to be left alone. It
ought to be
possible for both to be achievable, and I do not think
that the
need to be left alone should prevent the sciences from
having an
opportunity to be co-ordinated. So I would like to
support the
general idea.

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Dr G.P. Thomas

DR G.P. THOMAS (President of Kellogg College; Director of
the
Department for Continuing Education): Mr Vice-Chancellor,
I speak
as Director of the Department for Continuing Education
and also
speak as President of Kellogg, and I would like simply to
welcome
the references in the Commission's report to continuing
education
and life-long learning. I think the statement in Chapter
3 (paras
3.52--5) which sets out the case for Oxford's involvement
is an
eloquent and convincing one, and the concluding statement
that
activity in this field should be integral to Oxford's
future is
in my view correct. Oxford has a long and distinguished
record in
adult education, now called life-long learning, and this
should
be built on in the future, as recently suggested indeed
to the
General Board by one of its review committees. I think
that what
is needed now is for the expression of commitment in the
report
to be accompanied by a plan which will bring life-long
learning
into the University's normal ambit of activities, rather
than
maintaining it as something of an optional extra.

I think that, for that reason, the principles set out in
recommendation 1 in so far as they refer to continuing
education
should be endorsed, but with one qualification (or at
least
clarification) of recommendation 1 (ii). That the
education
offered by Oxford should `largely continue to be on a
full-time
residential basis' is, I think, itself unexceptionable,
provided
that the word `largely' is interpreted sensibly. At
present there
are about 20,000 students other than full-time
residential
students in Oxford in any one year; these are studying on
short
courses, part-time courses, and by other less traditional
forms
of study. In aggregate the overall volume of activity is
equivalent to about 1,000 full-time students. Given the
recognition of the importance of this work as set out in
Chapter
3, and the fact that continuing education students tend
to make
proportionately fewer claims on resources (most obviously
in
terms of residential accommodation), the scope for
increasing
this work is evident. The volume of this activity could,
for
example, double within the next ten or twenty years and
still
represent only about 10 per cent of the University's
overall
teaching activity—scarcely, I think, a significant
dent in
the interpretation of `largely'. For that reason, Sir, I
hope
that recommendation 2, which refers to the 1 per cent
annual
growth limit, is interpretable in terms of full-time
students
only, and that more flexibility in the number of students
studying part-time, through short courses, or other
non-standard
methods of study, can not only be permitted, but perhaps,
indeed,
encouraged.

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Dr W.D. Macmillan

DR W.D. MACMILLAN (Hertford College): Mr Vice-Chancellor,
when I
was an undergraduate, I had a friend who visited New York
on the
late lamented BUNAC scheme. On reaching his hotel room,
on the
twenty-second floor of a Manhattan skyscraper, he
switched on the
light and, in the instant, saw the city blacking out
before him,
section after section. He did not know how, but he
thought that
he was single-handedly responsible for plunging the Big
Apple
into darkness.

Having presented a paper to the General Board on the need
for
strategic planning in the University at the end of my
term as
Junior Proctor in 1996, I was reminded of this incident
when I
saw strategic planning ideas running through the North
Report,
section after section. I should hasten to add that I was
not
worried that these ideas would lead to the lights going
out all
over Oxford, but I did suffer the momentary conceit that
I might
have been responsible for switching the University on to
them.

The truth, of course, is that anyone taking a long, hard
look at
the University's governance would come to the same
conclusion.
Strategic planning procedures are a necessity. But common
conclusions about procedures do not entail common
conclusions
about structures. I am not alone amongst former Proctors
in
thinking that the central structural proposals of the
Commission,
as set out in recommendations 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, and 23,
are
mistaken. In passing, I might add that I am not persuaded
that
the present mechanism for selecting the Vice-Chancellor
has
proved so faulty that it needs to be replaced, so I am
not in
favour of recommendation 26 either. But I want to
concentrate on
the governance proposals, especially the idea of the
super-faculty and the associated proposal for the
abolition of
the General Board.

From a university perspective there is no doubt that the
present
faculty structure is in need of reform. Having sixteen
faculty
boards, which are neither formally represented on the
central
bodies of the University nor required to communicate
directly
with them, is nonsensical. It is hardly surprising that
the
Commission does not feel it necessary to labour this
point. What
is surprising is that the report does not address two
consequential questions: why three boards and why use
current
faculties as the building blocks? Almost all that is
said on the
former is as follows (para. 5.112): `We believe that
three boards
is the maximum number which can sensibly be accommodated,
and
that any greater degree of fragmentation would be
inimical to a
coherent approach to planning and resource allocation.'

The only other justification offered for the three boards
is that
they have been designed (para. 5.105) to bring together
`subjects
in which the policy issues concerning teaching and
research,
funding, and other matters are broadly similar.'

But the similarity appears to be slight, given the data
published
in the Supplementary Volume as part of the KPMG Report.
If a
`coherent approach to planning' is dependent on the
degree to
which the super-faculties cohere, then the three-unit
solution is
distinctly unattractive.

A notable feature of the work by KPMG is that their
financial
model—-produced to support future planning in the
University—has five subject groups that are not
simply
amalgamations of existing faculties. There is little
doubt that
there is greater coherence within these groups than
within the
Commission's super-faculties. What is more, many of the
other
desiderata identified by the Commission point to the
advantages
of having more than three groups, as do a variety of
other
factors.

As the report notes, Franks came out in favour of five
groups,
and the reasoning that led to that conclusion is not
challenged.
Cambridge has a well-established five-school structure
(and a
General Board), which it shows no signs of abandoning.
The number
of research councils with whom the proposed Deputy
Vice-Chancellors would have to build up strong working
relationships currently stands at eight, if one counts
the
British Academy's Humanities Research Board. And Oxford
has, and
has recently reaffirmed its commitment to, a site
strategy
involving four subject groups.

There are, in addition, certain negative reasons for
avoiding
three super-faculties: there is a danger that rational
decision
making will be replaced by the Buggins's turn principle;
and
there is an even greater danger of a two-culture divide
in the
`downtown' University. Given the capacity of such a
divide to
reinforce the tensions between college and University,
this
should be a matter for concern. The Commission makes
perfectly
good points about scaling down activities in some areas
to make
room for growth in others, but an arts/science divide
seems
likely to lead either to a spending status quo or to
significant
frictions. These problems would not go away with a
five-board (or
even eight-board) structure, but they would be mitigated.

The proposal to have only three super-faculties is
intimately
connected with the idea of abolishing the General Board,
notwithstanding the fact that the Board `is regarded as
more
effective and is better understood than is Council'
(para. 4.67).
The report argues that (para. 4.83) `the way forward is
to pass
upwards from the General Board to a new Council the broad
strategic oversight of the University's academic work ...
and
then to devolve responsibility for all other matters ...
to a
lower level.'

It is undoubtedly right that much more responsibility
needs to be
devolved downwards. The problem is how this should be
done and
what the responsibilities of the centre should be.

There should certainly be a strategic oversight function,
but the
oversight arrangements proposed by the Commission have a
number
of deficiencies, including a peculiar asymmetry between
teaching
and research. The proposed Educational Policy and
Standards
Committee would scrutinise the teaching work of the
boards, but
there is no comparable body to oversee research. In so
far as
there is any oversight, it must be presumed to operate
through
the proposed annual planning and resource allocation
cycle, or
directly in the new Council's regular, albeit infrequent,
dealings with the academic boards. In either case, there
is no
equivalent sense of the research work of the boards being
audited. Quite where the current and very valuable system
of
subject reviews would fit into the structure is not
clear, given
that they cover both research and teaching.

The obvious body to deal with such activities is a
General Board.
A General Board could also deal with the academic support
services. Whilst there are some advantages in having a
separate
structure for these services, directly under Council, the
thrust
of many initiatives over recent years—and the
leitmotif of
the report itself—is to bring them closer to their
users.
This is of particular importance in the library and
computing
sectors. Some would argue for the division of both these
sectors
between super-faculties, but there are likely to be
greater costs
than benefits in such an arrangement. A sensible middle
way is
for a General Board to be responsible for overseeing both
the
faculties and the library and computing sectors.

A General Board would also be well placed to make
strategic
academic judgements about developments on the borderlands
between
faculties and, indeed, on the grouping and possible
regrouping of
subjects within faculties. One disappointing feature of
the
report is that there is no intellectual case made for the
arts/medicine/science divide. Persuasive cases could be
constructed for alternative arrangements that challenge
conventional wisdom.

If there is to be both a General Board and devolution of
power to
faculties, then the responsibilities suggested for the
Planning
and Resource Allocation Committee would have to be
assumed, in
large measure, by the General Board. As a strong
supporter of
both strategic planning and devolution, I see no
difficulty in
such an arrangement.

I have referred throughout to a General Board because the
current
body is clearly not above improvement. For one thing,
having
faculty heads as members would be eminently sensible. The
devolution package requires faculty heads to have a fair
degree
of autonomy and authority, but it would be desirable for
that
autonomy to be rooted in a broadly based faculty body,
rather
than a Council possibly dominated by college interests.

Let me conclude by saying that a great deal of the report
is to
be welcomed. The Commission should be congratulated for
shining a
torch into some of the darker organisational corners of
the
University. They have, as it were, located the fuse box,
condemned the wiring, and sketched out a new circuit
diagram. It
is now up to Congregation to decide whether to accept the
design
and put the electricians to work, to reject it and hope
the
present system will suffice, or to look for a third way.
I
believe, Mr Vice-Chancellor, we need to find that third
way.

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supplement



Dr A. Murray

DR A. MURRAY (University College): Mr Vice-Chancellor, I
have a
simple plea. The humanities have twice been mentioned, in
p
ersuasive and elegant speeches, by members of scientific
faculties. They said they `did not see why the same sort
of
arrangements should not apply to the humanities as in the
sciences'. A degree of reservation was audible in those
remarks,
and it needs filling out. Let me fill it out with two
remarks,
about chapters on our agenda today.

One is Chapter 8, entitled `Teaching and learning:
quality
assurance'. When I read through that chapter I had the
following
thought, which applies to the humanities, but I do not
know how
far to the sciences. Quality assurance in every
department of
life, including academe, is a deeply important matter.
But I
regard my whole job, with or without extra bureaucratic
devices,
as quality assurance in one field or another, and I have
discovered through experience that it is too easy to
create heavy
bureaucratic systems, expensive in paper and time, and
actually
counter-productive. No amount of quality-assurance
mechanisms,
after all, can produce quality if we do not attract and
entice
absolutely first-class people to come to the University
and work
here. The humanities departments in Oxford have this
great
attraction, and they have always had it, that it is a
privilege
to work here, among distinguished colleagues. It
constitutes the
subtlest and most effective quality-assurance mechanism
there is,
and others tend to impede and detract from it.

Secondly, and leading on from that, as I read through the
summary
of this marvellous report, my eye just came down to some
of the
small items of which my own limited experience in
university
governance was able to instruct me. (I will not keep you
with a
lot of them.) As some people here may know, I entered
the world
of Congregation politics only a year or two ago. I
learned that
Congregation itself, as a constitutional device, has come
up for
debate several times in the history of the University. As
a
historian I am the first to acknowledge, in the general
context
of the history of deliberative bodies, that for those
conducting
the business of the University the sovereignty of
Congregation
must be a difficult thing to handle. I readily
acknowledge that.
At the same time, the principle of academic
self-government,
ultimate self-government, is deeply important, even
though it may
create practical problems. I would therefore, myself,
resist any
recommendation which tended to erode the ultimate
sovereignty of
the researchers and teachers. Therefore, rather than keep
you, I
will focus on one of the recommendations in the report,
one which
has a certain poignancy for me because it touches the
last
occasion, or almost the last, when I was here in this
assembly.

There was a debate on that occasion about whether retired
people
should still be allowed to vote in Congregation. A motion
had
been tabled to abolish that vote, and the motion was
defeated.
The number of people voting against came up to the
minimum number
of seventy-five members. I was one of those seventy-five.
Those
of us who did not believe in the motion had gone round
our
colleges saying, `Can you come along?' There were so
many people
who would have liked to come along but had committees,
tutorials,
and the rest. So they could not come. The vote was
therefore a
near thing, like the Battle of Waterloo. I feel that to
enlarge
the minimum number of people in Congregation required to
vote in
favour of a resolution for that vote to be binding
(recommendation 10), or against a resolution for the
rejection to
be binding, would militate against the busy working
academics who
should have the ultimate say-so about approving these
splendid
proposals. I just cite that as an example. There are one
or two
others, if you look carefully at the small print, that
tend to
erode the ultimate authority of the teaching and academic
staff,
the first-class people so painstakingly appointed here.
Their
authority is one of the wonders of our system. We should
protect
it.

At the meeting of Congregation on 17 March Mr
Vice-Chancellor
declared the general resolution carried nemine
contradicente
.

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supplement